Christmas is magical. Even the Grinch learned that. Whatever your circumstances, whatever your lot in life, Christmas can be a time that softens a hard heart and turns a green, scary goblin into mush. I love Christmas. The music, decorations, extra activities, family gatherings – all of it. I learned that when you give up your expectations of what the holiday season should be, you may just experience the magic of Christmas in unexpected ways.
Growing up, Christmas meant family, candlelight services, listening to our favorite Christmas tapes and laughing as my parents bickered about the placement of the Christmas tree.
Its fairly easy to experience the magic of the season when Christmas meets expectation.
But what happens when Christmas falls far short of expectation? When family gatherings are missed? Treasured traditions flown out the window? Memories made every year no longer possible? All of my holidays growing up met expectation until my very first Christmas out of college, on my own and in the working world.
I was 22 and had reluctantly taken a job at an emergency youth shelter. It was awful. I knew I wanted to work in social services in some capacity, but this job was exhausting on all levels and was filled with long shifts. To top it off, I was scheduled for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
It’s safe to say, I was not heading into the holiday feeling anything magical.
All the experiences I associated with Christmas were not possible that year. I was angry and annoyed that I had to work such a crappy job. Until, my parents reminded me that Christmas is about more than my expectations. They managed to clear it with my boss to spend the holiday with me at the shelter. They arrived with pizza, Elf and a new hooded sweatshirt for every kid at the shelter.
The small group of kids who literally had no one to spend Christmas with, soaked up my parent’s attention like a sponge. They laughed and giggled like I had not seen before. A couple of the younger kids put Christmas decorations in my hair and were silly all evening. They loved the movie and thanked my parents all night for coming. When they opened their sweatshirts, their faces lit up like they had just opened the hottest gift on the market.
I climbed into bed that night feeling ashamed of myself.
I had been angry at what I thought was going to be a ruined Christmas and never paused to consider the kids I worked with. They had no family, no traditions, no treasured memories to make. And yet, they found joy in the Christmas we spent together and I experienced the magic of Christmas in the most unexpected circumstances.
Some Christmases are picture perfect and some are downright crappy. Maybe you are heading into a Christmas that already seems ruined. You are grieving the loss of a loved one. You are managing family crisis. Your traditions aren’t possible this year and your expectations for a magical Christmas are gone. If that’s you, I wish for you a Christmas experience that is magical no matter how small. Because the experiences we have in unexpected circumstances are sometimes the most magical of all.